239 China Rich Girlfriend

chinarichgirlfriendby Kevin Kwan, 2015

If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s people who get on a train or a plane, buckle their seatbelts, and proceed to stare forward for the duration of the trip. They don’t put in earbuds, they don’t watch a downloaded movie, they sure as hell don’t crack open a book, and they don’t even close their eyes and rest their heads. I don’t particularly love flying, but I do enjoy knowing that for a definite period of time I will be required to do nothing more but entertain myself, which is to say, I will have guaranteed reading time. I read the second installment of the Crazy Rich Asians series while coming back from visiting my parents over the Christmas break where, you guessed it, my seatmate did nothing but stare forward. Well, he did ask me if I were studying for an exam, because apparently that’s the only reason one would be reading. Anyway.

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238 Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

gunsgermsandsteelby Jared Diamond, 1997

This is the second time I’ve read this tome on how the civilizations came to be how they are. The first time was for a book club, during which time I read the book as quickly as possible in order to have it finished by the discussion date and, as a result, I remembered very little of it. As I’ve been reading more books about history and culture and, especially, books about the history of racism, I’ve been curious to revisit Diamond’s ideas on why some cultures conquered others and not the other way around. The idea that some cultures dominated because they were morally and intellectually superior still somewhat persists and that is the exact idea that Diamond attempts to destroy. For Diamond, there no one culture was superior to another, some were just in the right places at the right times, aligned along the right axis.

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237 Red Clocks

redclocksby Leni Zumas, 2018

Feminist dystopian literature is certainly having a moment. The success of the fortuitously timed release of The Handmaid’s Tale series amid the current political climate has ushered in a new generation of stories that focus on one general idea: we women are terrified. Red Clocks is no different. A clear child of Atwood’s bleak imagining of a totalitarian control on reproductive rights, Red Clocks depicts a future in which embryos have rights, in vitro fertilization is illegal, only two-parent households can adopt, and Roe v. Wade is overturned. Of course, history tells us that this does not mean fewer women will have abortions, just that more women will die from them. This book is history repeating itself.

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236 Americanah

americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013

As the year came to a close and I finished both the Read Harder Challenge and my Year Of challenge, I decided to try to squeeze in some books that I’ve long wanted to read. The previously posted My Brilliant Friend was one, as was this tale of two lovers split between Nigeria and the United States that I continue to hear so much about. Such hyped books always run the risk of not living up to their reputations, either because their plots have been spoiled, they were never really that good and were just the result of some excellent marketing, or their stories just aren’t for you (see again: My Brilliant Friend). I’m happy to say that none of this was the case with Americanah, for the writing was as brilliant as I had been promised, the story was as relevant as could be, and the emotions were raw and poignant. This is one book that I expect to be read for decades to come.

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2018 in the Books & 2019 in the Books to Come

This was a challenging book year for me, mainly because I spent at least a quarter of the year studying Spanish intensively in the hopes of taking the C1 test to receive my Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera. Well, I didn’t take the test. I didn’t feel fully prepared, and since I’m only doing this for my personal edification, I didn’t want to pay the $100+ registration fee if I didn’t feel completely ready to take the test. Maybe next year. I learned a lot and feel a lot more confident in my Spanish abilities, so it definitely wasn’t without gain. Of course, this means that I didn’t read much during that time and I just barely slid under the wire for the Read Harder Challenge and my yearly goal of 52 books, with a total of 57. Yet, I completed both of them and I read Octavia E. Butler’s entire oeuvre. That is something to be celebrated. Here’s what my reading year looked like in some colorful charts:

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction:

chart

Male Authors vs. Female Authors:

chart (1)

Star Ratings (Again, no one-star reads!):

chart (5)

Genre range:

chart (3)

Decade range:

chart (4)

Diversity percentage: 54%

Percent borrowed from the library: 61%

Pages read: 14,226

Hours of audio listened to: 89

Favorite read(s): This year it’s a multi-way tie. I saw Butler’s Parable of the Talents in a completely different light and was simply amazed by it. I found Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow to be edifying and enlightening. I loved Yaa Gyasi’s multi-generational saga centered on the transatlantic slave trade, Homegoing. And, as a late entry, I adored the complex racial entanglements of Chimamanda Ngozi Adicie’s Americanah.

Least favorite read(s): Probably Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick, not because it was a bad book, but because it is not something that interests me at all and while, yes, I am sticking my head in the sand on this subject, I can only be terrified of so many things. I’ll also add book four of the Time QuintetMany Waters because, really Ms. L’Engle, what’s up with the slut shaming?

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Goals for 2019:

Shelf

My “Year Of” project will continue, and this year I’m picking my absolute, most favorite author: Ray Bradbury. (See my Bradbury shelf above. He’s so much more than Fahrenheit 451, you guys.) You may wonder why I might need to dedicate myself to reading my favorite author’s works in a year, as clearly I would have read them all, but the truth is that I haven’t. I’ve always been in the mindset of “saving” those books that I haven’t read, especially after Bradbury’s death, but that has started to seem both silly and wasteful to me. So, this year I will not only reread all of his books that I love, but I will finally crack open the ones that have been sitting on my shelf for years. Because Bradbury’s publications are extensive, I’m focusing on his novels for this project. His short stories have been collected and recollected and republished under numerous guises, some of which are no longer in print, so I don’t have a definitive list of these. I do have a number of short story collections, though, so I will try to work some in over the year.

After some consideration, I’m tackling the Read Harder Challenge again this year. I thought about giving myself a rest, but the truth is that I like being forced to not only read outside of my comfort zone, but also having strong motivation to read some of the books that have been languishing on my want-to-read list. My list of things I want to read is pretty broad; however, the list of things I would read, if left to my own devices, would not be quite so much.

I didn’t really work toward reading prize winners or presidential biographies this year and I’m not sure how hard I will work toward that in the coming year. I’m starting to realize that I can really only handle the above two goals before I start to rebel and want to read only the latest, shiniest thing that everyone is talking about. But, I’ll keep both in mind and maybe I can tick some off anyway.

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That’s it for me in 2018! How did all of you do? Did you complete your challenges? Are you setting any new ones? What were your most and least favorite reads? I look forward to keeping up with all of your thoughts on books in 2019!

235 My Brilliant Friend

mybrilliantfriendby Elena Ferrante, 2012

I’ve heard so much about the Neapolitan novels since they infiltrated the English literature market and I’ve always been curious about these sweeping tales of two girls growing up in 1950s Italy. I’ve made the erroneous assumption before that something that is popular cannot also be good (Devil in the White City, Harry Potter, Big Little Lies), so I’ve started to suspend my judgment until I actually read the work in question. How does My Brilliant Friend stack up? Eh…it was okay.

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